One day during the last month of my internship at Veracity, I found myself alone in our quaint, sunny office in Portland’s Bakery Building with a brief pocket of time to myself. I admired my desk and the large computer monitor displaying a press release I wrote. I scanned our generous downtown view. I noticed my notepad that was clean with fresh yellow pages on my first day at the office was now disheveled and running out of pages after six months. Just like my notepad, I arrived on my first day as a clean blank page and left brimming with new skills, connections and a love for public relations.
How did this happen? I’m only 21-years-old with an associate degree. I was told that I would be lucky to work at a gluten free bakery when I moved from New Jersey to Portland, and yet I attained a dream internship at Veracity. I wrote press releases and blog-posts, communicated and pitched ideas to media outlets, spoke with clients and attended meetings. This is real work that many people my age will not touch for years.
How did I get here? It started when my hours were slashed at my previous retail job. I had an entire unpaid week off that helped me realize that I would rather be paid nothing if it meant gaining experience in writing and public relations. Life is too short to be sidetracked from doing exactly what you want to do. Thanks to Veracity, I was able to both gain invaluable experience in PR while collecting a stipend that will help pay for my tuition at the University of Oregon this fall.
For those looking for a dream PR internship, here are five tips to help the process go as smoothly as possible:
1. Think of an internship as an investment in your future
When I first arrived in Portland, my initial goal was to find a job where I could work as many hours as possible and make the highest wage I qualified for. I was preparing for a gap year between community college and a four-year university. What I didn’t understand at first is the jobs I applied for would not help me propel my prospective career in PR. Yes, I’d save up money and keep busy, but I wouldn’t have the real world PR skills that I do after interning at Veracity.
I urge anyone in a similar position to opt for an internship in your desired field over a well-paying job when you are first starting out. Many times they are one in the same. Just as a college degree is an investment in your future, the right internship will broaden your palette of skills, introduce you to a network of professionals in your field and act as a stepping stone to the career you are seeking post-college.
2. You can apply to companies that aren’t necessarily hiring
My internship search reached peak frustration when I applied to companies via job posting websites. Due to the fact that almost every unemployed, college-educated person in the Portland-metro area floods to websites such as Mac’s List, PDX Pipeline and Indeed, I did not hear back from any of the internships I applied for using these outlets. The moment I picked up the phone, my luck began to change.
First, I searched for all the PR firms within my immediate area and composed a list. Next, I cold-called each office and inquired whether they would be interested in hosting an intern. I received some no’s, but mostly yes’s—or at least someone willing to take a look at my resume. Many PR companies don’t necessarily have an established internship program, but from my experience, most were open to the possibility of hiring an intern. These cold-calling phone calls usually ended in a “please send your resume to this email.”
When sending the resume and cover letter via email, be sure to mention who you spoke to on the phone. I couldn’t believe how well this worked for me. I went from absolutely zero responses to having three scheduled interviews in the same week.
3. Customization is key
When I was hired, Amy told me she was not looking for an intern but reconsidered after reviewing my cover letter. I think it’s because I was really enamored by Veracity when I viewed the website. I knew that this would be the perfect place for me to work so I made sure to read over Amy and Mike’s biographies, client testimonies, blog posts and more. I put a lot of time and effort into making sure the cover letter was interesting—not generic—and also included specifics about myself and how I could be of use to Veracity.
Take the time to research a company you want to intern for and convey that knowledge in the first paragraph of your cover letter. Go on to write an interesting and eloquent inquiry explaining that although you have a lot to learn, you also have a lot to offer and list specific skills. Cover letters provide an excellent opportunity to prove your writing chops. Write in a way that proves your cover letter was written solely for the company you are applying for.
4. Go on any and all interviews
Interviewing, even for a job you don’t want, is a surefire way to build confidence for the time you find yourself interviewing for the job you actually want. During my first interview for this internship search, I knew within the first five minutes that I did not want the job a different firm was offering. It didn’t matter because conversation was flowing to the point where the interview went on for an hour. When I showed the potential employer my portfolio of writing samples, she proceeded to point out all of the mistakes she saw at a glance.
I was embarrassed at first, but then I went home, corrected the mistakes and reread my writing samples to make sure they were flawless for the next interview. I noted what worked and what didn’t and honed my pitch even more. When I was interviewing with Amy, she flipped through my portfolio and said, “See, this is exactly what I am looking for.” I was overjoyed and grateful that I had an opportunity to correct my mistakes for an interview that mattered most. There is always something positive and helpful you can take away from even the worst interviews.
5. Be a yes wo(man)
Once you land your dream internship, what you do with it is up to you, but seizing every opportunity as a learning experience is so important.
Amy and Mike gave me the option to attend certain meetings and events outside of my normal work hours and I never regretted saying “yes.” I had the opportunity to attend live tapings of our client on the local news, sit in and contribute to meetings, not to mention, attend Engage (formerly called SearchFest), Portland’s premier digital marketing conference, at no cost.
As I am preparing for my first term back at college as a PR major at the University of Oregon, I am constantly reminded how lucky I am to have spent 2016 at Veracity. Some college students have this fear of graduating and not finding a job in their field and I am happy to report that I do not have this fear at all. I will be just as tenacious about finding my post-bachelor job as I was finding my internship. I am really looking forward to going back to school but I am most looking forward to graduating and finding a job that brings me as much joy as my internship at Veracity.